The advertising world loves to announce the death of things. We’re all a bit morbid in that way. If there’s a technology, commerce practice or trendy social media platform that sees even the slightest downtick in usage or popularity, the ad world is all too ready to take up its scythe.
Our favorite things, of course, to publicly eulogize in town squares such as this are advertising mediums themselves. I remember my first job at an ad agency in the late ’90s. “So you want to be a copywriter and write TV commercials, huh? Don’t get too used to it. We’re about to witness the death of TV.” The death of TV, I thought. What a drag. I had just bought my first one at P.C. Richard.
In the twenty years since, the advertising community has been a willing obituarist for any ad format that begins to show its age in even the slightest way. Television advertising, we would have you believe, has been deceased for the better part of two decades. Hear an ad person bring up television as a possible solution by which a brand might market their products or services, and the gasps in the room are audible. It has become the Lord Voldemort of all marketing options, the dark and ominous ad format that simply must not be named.
Print, radio, outdoor, direct-to-consumer, even several forms of online marketing – according to the ad world, these are all dead as disco. And proclaiming them as such has become one of our favorite things to do, for understandable reasons, as assuming the role of reaper is an easy and attention-getting way to position ourselves as futurists. What marketing person wouldn’t want to be known as that?
It’s funny though. Sometimes when I’m driving in my car, and I shamefully turn off the Internet radio streaming in through my phone to check out what’s happening on the old school dial, one of those ancient, crusted over thirty-second radio spots might actually get my attention, or even more miraculously, make me chuckle (some might call this a brand impression).
This doesn’t happen often. But, when it does, I can’t help but think of the famous “bring out your dead” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where Eric Idle, as the dead collector, comes upon a plague-stricken citizen who has plenty of life left in him, yet his relative insists upon throwing him onto the corpse wagon. It seems that sometimes we’re that insistent relative, with radio, or television, or outdoor, slung over our shoulder, eager to heap it onto the pile of rotting carcasses, while it’s still drawing breath.
While historically our industry has been quick to euthanize ad formats that are in the twilight of their effectiveness, the digital age has forced us to rethink this habit altogether, instead raising the question – does any form of advertising every truly die? And should “dead” be a word we even use anymore when talking about the channels we work in?
When you look around, it seems so many of the mediums we’ve waked and buried – television, radio, print, outdoor, banners – have since been resurrected by some form of digital innovation, and in many ways they’ve even resuscitated each other. A brand can now run “television” in an online “print” publication. “Radio” has found new life in, well, Internet radio, a platform that has also created visibility for otherwise invisible banner ads. Even “print” seems to be successfully haunting our social feeds. So despite the industry’s best efforts to put these formats in the ground, the advertising undead seem to be all around us, and multiplying.
So the next time you come across the words “the death of” in an ad context, scroll or swipe a bit. There’s likely a tech-revived zombie waiting.